Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by difficulties in social interaction and communication, repetitive and stereotyped interests and behaviours affecting 1% of the population worldwide. Social-communication skills have been reported to have a positive impact on a number of areas such as academic achievement, social success and quality of life outcomes.
Training and coaching practices have been suggested as essential for teaching adults new skills. More specifically, training adults to adjust their interactive style has been reported to promote communication skills in children with autism and video feedback has been proved an effective and empowering tool in the training process.
Telepractice is a promising service delivery approach which has been widely used in health but also to a certain extent in other disciplines including education. Its main advantages include reduced money and time spent on travel as well as reduced intrusion into the family home. Digital delivery methods to engage parents in training have been increasingly used as an alternative to traditional face-to-face training and coaching. The Internet-Based Parent-Implemented Communication Strategies (i-PiCS) program is designed to train and coach parents how to use evidence-based teaching strategies to improve the social communication skills of their children with autism in the comfort of their home. As young children spend most of their waking hours with parents, parent-implemented interventions are likely to ensure that these strategies are used frequently and throughout daily routines.
Children in rural areas are likely to be living in poorer conditions than children in urban areas and be receiving interventions of less intensity (i.e. fewer sessions and of shorter duration) due to increased travel time and cost. The Financial Crisis of 2008 incurred substantial cuts in health, social care and education in many western economies and people with disabilities were impacted to a great extent by these cuts.
Cumbria is a large mountainous county in North West England with 54% of its residents living in rural areas (compared to 18% across England and Wales). The Children's Health Therapists Team (consisting of Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists) and the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Teaching Support Team (consisting of Specialist Advisory Teachers and Educational Psychologists) are in charge of children with SEND in Cumbria. These teams often have to travel long distances to meet parents and children adding extra stress to their increased due to cuts workload. The situation is even more problematic in winter when travelling is not always possible due to bad weather conditions.
i-PiCS program has the potential to be an effective tool in counties like Cumbria considerably reducing Education and Health Care professionals' and parents' stress levels, enhancing parenting skills and family quality of life as well as children's social-communication skills.